Does networking work?
At my first Accountex a couple of years ago I attended a talk on 'marketing your own business'.
The speaker talked highly of Business Network International (BNI) group. So when a new group set up locally I applied to join. I soon found out that it was not for me.
With this group supposedly one of each profession was permitted to join but the groups are set up on a similar basis as a franchise – the area is purchased and the more attendees the more percentage of the fee for the franchisee. I was to be the sole accountant. When a partner from a medium sized high street accountants joined I was not that bothered as he was there under the 'auditor' heading. Then a bookkeeper joined but made it clear that he was joining as he wanted more accounting type work. I complained to the leader but was told that as leader he could invite whom he liked.
You could only miss 2 of the weekly meetings and then you were out. I have 2 offices 200 miles apart. The Surrey one I visit at least once a month (more in Dec/Jan) to fit round clients meetings but I thought I could probably work round that. The high street partner and I met for lunch one day and agreed no more. Apart from the overlap of professions, the 8am start and no breakfast laid on we didn’t like the fact that every week you were supposed to say how much work you had introduced to other members. We agreed that we needed to know the quality of the work of other group members before recommendation so we left. I had lasted 8 weeks. A year later there was a picture in the local paper of current members and I noticed that although the numbers had stayed static none of the original members remained.
I looked for other local networking groups and the only one I could find was the Women Business Network (BWC (part of the TBN (The Boardroom Network))which worked with the same format as the BNI but with monthly meetings, this time a good lunch, a variety of members' businesses, and with no recommendation pressure. There was still the '2 missed and you're out' rule but as the meetings were monthly that was possible. I had to miss one (mums 90th birthday bash in Surrey) and was told 'once again...' However, in the New Year they closed the branch and I was not allowed to join the other 2 branches in my locality due to duplication of profession.
So I gave up looking. I was attending a monthly business group at a hotel 5 minutes drive for me so I was still doing something. A larger group of about 80, no membership rules, a good £10 breakfast, speakers who were not necessarily members but gave business related talks e.g. about GDPR, one given by a director who had set up a company hiring out drones for surveyors. A 7am start but hey! It's up the road from me. After 2 years of attending no introductions but I go for the interesting speakers rather than anything else and the no pressure of '2 missed and you're out'.
But I wanted a smaller more personal group where you could learn more specific business related matters and had more of a camaraderie base. After online searching I found one (meeting at the same hotel as the other – I seem to live there!) which was a 'break away' from the BWC. 9am start, good breakfast, no one profession, no '2 missed and you're out' (although they do expect a good reason for non attendance for catering reasons) and again it's monthly. Unfortunately, the no restriction of one profession does mean that there is more than one accountant but all that means is making sure that you are not sitting next to each other when you do your 'one minute' sales pitch. One of the three accountants is an employee of a high street accountant whose job it is to sell her firm so she is more experienced and confident than I am in the 'one minute introduction' but I don’t go for the introductions. The group is for women who run their own business surviving the ups and downs. Best of all are the speakers who include group members so you get to know their individual skills (last month was a talk on how colour can promote your business – logo, newsletters, branding; this month it is 'Dealing with difficult people').
No referrals as yet but I've only been going 6 months (6 meetings).
So does networking work? Overall I would say 'no'. My base is a town in Dorset and as such I find that when you do attend business-related events you meet the same faces who already have their own accountants or do it themselves and are happy in doing so. But if you are not specifically looking for referrals but rather a group of like minded people then they can be found.
What does work? Last week I met with 2 new clients both via recommendation. Ask any accountant and they will say the same thing – its recommendation that counts but sometimes you do need to remember that you are not on your own and that is the value of networking groups
My group: Successful Women in Business https://www.womensdevelopment.co.uk